NEW DELHI: Three years after an expert committee suggested changes to the IPC, CrPc, Information Technology Act and a broader definition of what constitutes hate speech, the suggestions are still a work in progress with one of the members calling for an urgent amendment in criminal laws.
“There is urgency to change criminal law in many respects...but that will take time. And because regulating hate speech is the need of the hour, the suggestions that we gave should be put up for wider consultation. We are not owners of wisdom but the suggestions that we gave should be looked at,” said Navneet Wasan, a retired IPS officer and member of the T K Viswanathan committee.
In August last year, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had called for a revamp of the criminal justice system and sought views of the states on changes that may be required in four key criminal justice laws—the Indian Penal Code (IPC), Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), Arms Act and the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS). That process is underway.
The New Indian Express reached out to members of an expert committee which had prepared a detailed report in 2017, a day after Facebook, whom the Congress has accused of manipulating its content at the behest of BJP, reacted to the allegations.
The expert committee, headed by former Law Secretary and Lok Sabha Secretary General T K Viswanathan, was constituted by the Centre after the Supreme Court struck down the controversial Section 66A of the Information Technology Act in 2015. In its report that was submitted in 2017, the committee recommended that the Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure and the IT Act needed to be amended to introduce stringent provisions to deal with cases of hate speech and use of cyberspace to spread hatred and incitement.
“While the opportunities afforded by of digital technology are enormous, the threats to public order and national security are real and continue to engage the attention of the governments because governments of the day cannot be mute spectators to harmful content propagated through the digital space creating hatred, violence and bloodshed amongst sections of the people,” the report had stated. It added that therefore, it has become necessary to map the contours of freedom expression which will enable us to distinguish expression from advocacy and advocacy from incitement to violence both online and offline mode.
Dr S Sivakumar, another member of the committee, said that given the publicly stated priority of the present government to reduce the number of legislations but strengthen the existing legislation, the need of the hour was to take a holistic view of the present laws and make the regulation of social media content as part of that bigger picture.
Full revamp needed
Only a comprehensive revamping of the criminal justice system can provide measures to check hate speech, Dr S Sivakumar said